Sunday, August 21, 2016

If Tatarstan Were an Independent Country, It would Have Been among Top 25 Teams at Rio

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – It will not surprise anyone that some Russians, unhappy that their country was fourth in the Rio Olympic medal count, are talking about how many medals they would have won if their country was still the USSR and they could count all the additional medals the other post-Soviet states won as theirs (

            And it will also not surprise many that some Russians are outraged that the leader of Ingushetia publicly rooted for an ethnic Ingush who competed for Turkey rather than for the Russian Federation although there were no complaints about the Belarusian who competed for the Russian team (

            But it may come as a surprise to some that the people in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation are not only focused on what athletes from their republics did, counting how many medals their republics would have won were they competing as independent countries, and that Russians are anything but happy about attention that in any way reduces the Russian wins.

            That may prove a larger problem for Moscow in the future because athletes from non-Russian areas, including the North Caucasus, the Middle Volga and Buryatia to name just three areas, were so numerous not only on the Russian Olympic team but also and more prominently among its winners of gold, silver and bronze medals (

            Whatever the ultimate fallout from this proves to be, it may be instructive to consider the very different ways the titular nationalities of two republics, Tatarstan and Buryatia, have reacted to the victories of their athletes and to efforts in first case at least to downplay the nationality of the Olympians involved.

            An article in Kazan’s “Business Gazeta” points out that “a hypothetical Tatar team at the Olympiad would have been in the Top 25 surpassing Ukraine, Poland and Iran.”  But unfortunately, it continues, “not everyone is pleased by this” as is highlighted by some strange goings on at Wikipedia (

            The open online encyclopedia at whose urging it remains unclear suddenly decided to change the nationality of two of the Tatar winners because they came from Bashkortostan. The day before they won, the Kazan paper says, the two were listed as Tatars; but after they did so, they were listed as Bashkirs because they come from Bashkortostan.

            As the paper points out, “the issue ‘Tatar or Bashkir’ is as eternal as Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be,’” but in this case, the parents of the two young men confirmed that they and their children are Tatars not Bashkirs and want to be known as such  whatever Wikipedia or other sources choose to report.

            The result of the protests from Tatarstan to this regionalist approach, however, was not to restore their nationality but rather to describe them as “’Russian sportsmen’” and ignore their nationality altogether, even though the encyclopedia doesn’t do that with ethnic Russians on the team or in other cases where there may be a difference between ethnicity and citizenship.

            “Business Gazeta” concludes its survey of the real number of Tatars on the Russian and other teams with the following remark: “Let’s fantasize a little. What if all the Tatars were on a separate team? What place would it have in the overall medal count at the Olympiad in Rio? In the middle of the third ten … Not bad, true?”

            Meanwhile, in Buryatia, commentator Bato Ochirov says that the difference between the way in which the authorities there reacted to the victory of an ethnic Russian from that region and to that of an ethnic Buryat prompts some disturbing questions about what the republic’s rulers are about (/

            By playing up the importance of an ethnic Russian, he continues, the authorities did their part to promote the notion Moscow has long pushed that the strengthening of regional identities is fine but the strengthening of ethnic ones is not.  Tragically, some Buryats have internalized this attitude.

            Like their regional rulers, they accept this division of “ours” and “not ours” rather than the more natural one between fellow Buryats and other nations, including the Russians.  And their acceptance has led to “a ‘silence of the lambs’” which he describes as “the most powerful virus for the destruction of the Buryat people.”

            The Buryats, Ochirov says, should follow the example of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the Ingush head, who not only celebrated the victory of an Ingush athlete from his republic but also openly rooted for an ethnic Ingush who was a member of the Turkish national team.  That is something Russian nationalists don’t like but that all other nationalists should emulate.

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